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EPA crews arriving at Drewrys site in August to clear years of toxic demolition debris

Alise Spates is confident that her six kids, even the youngest ones, know better than to play on the abandoned Drewrys Brewery site a block away.

It’s full of environmental contaminants and decaying structures that are a danger for any trespassers.

She worries more about another problem at the site.

“You come out here at night time and you’re going to hear and see bats,” Spates said. “You can see them going (makes whirring sound effects with her mouth), in and out, flying. I’ve probably experienced six bats coming in before, flying through the door where the kids are going in and out at night time.”

So Spates was relieved to hear Thursday’s news from South Bend city government. For the first time in a long time, there will soon be visible progress in clearing all of the asbestos-laiden demolition debris from the 14-acre site on the city’s northwest side.

On August 7 crews from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will arrive and start removing the debris piles, underground storage tanks and asbestos from the buildings that are still there, says Caleb Bauer, the city’s executive director of community investment. EPA hopes to finish the removal by September or October.

From there, the city plans to solicit bids to demolish the site’s buildings. Bauer hopes to at least have demolition contracts awarded by the end of the year. The city has earmarked at least $3 million in American Rescue Plan money for the demolition and clean-up.

Drewrys brewed beer there until it closed in 1972. Since then, a few small businesses have occupied space in the complex sporadically. In 2014, Arizona developer Steve Durkee bought the property with plans, he said, to redevelop it into a hydroponic indoor farming operation.

But Durkee’s plans never materialized and the city last year took ownership in a delinquent property tax sale.

Bauer said progress on improving the site has been slow over the years.

“This has been an eyesore for a number of years and we’re thankful that the federal government is willing to assist the city at this scale,” Bauer said. “I hope that neighbors are happy too to see the site getting cleaned up. That has been a long-term priority for the city.”

The city also received some good news about the property recently from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. The agency found some significant contamination on the site. Future owners can’t disturb more than the top two feet of soil without an IDEM-approved soil management plan. And groundwater at the site is too contaminated to be used by people.

But the agency’s report concluded that residential and commercial development can occur there. Bauer said the city ultimately envisions a mix of homes and businesses on the site.

IDEM will require the city to file with the property deed an environmental restrictive covenant that details the types of redevelopment the agency will allow on different parts of the site, based on the types of degree of contamination there.

Bauer says the city will likely demolish all of the Drewrys buildings except for one: the concrete smokestack that rises more than 150 feet. The city commissioned a study that found the tower is safe to remain standing.

That tower, along with those two cylindrical containers so popular with the bats, is the first thing you see when you look out Alise Spates’ front door. She’s happy the tower will stay, at least while the city owns the property.

“I appreciate that because, I mean, it is historical, so I know if it can be restored, it looks great. Because I know how the beautifying of it would be once they get done.”

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).